“What, to the American Indian, is your Columbus Day? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
Of course, when the great black escaped slave and abolitionistuttered those words in 1852, he was referring to America’s institution of black slavery. He made the speech as the honored guest of a Fourth of July celebration. But, as you can see, the statement applies perhaps even more tellingly to the American Indian or Native American as we “celebrate” yet another “Columbus Day.” Had Douglass been speaking specifically of the Indian, he might have added something like this:
What you celebrate…what you are commemorating on this day is that every square inch of land, every lake, river and stream, every mountain and field, every blade of grass or grain of desert sand that you proudly refer to as the ‘United States of America’ is stolen property – stolen from a people who rarely, if ever, warrant even a back-handed mention in today’s socio-economic and political discourse. This terrible reality lies at the bottom of a continent-wide and unimaginably deep sea of red blood which separates the two blue eastern and western oceans.
The Indian view of Columbus, therefore, is somewhat different from the “average” American’s.
The Indian, as Columbus’ first victim, notes that in less than one hour aftertook his first step onto an idyllic Bahamian island some 520 years ago, he promptly enslaved and finally exterminated its native peoples.
Ever since that day, October 12, 1492, Columbus’ successors, various incarnations of “angry white men,” have waged an unrelenting, no holds barred war against not just America’s native inhabitants, but the whole earth itself, human and nonhuman, plant and animal. They have raped, robbed and pillaged, enslaved and murdered, colonized and exploited millions upon millions upon millions since they took those first tentative cruises from the seaports of a remote and backward corner of the earth, namely, the coastal regions of northwestern Europe.
And so, with Douglass, we ask again: “What to the Indian is your Columbus Day?”